Anxiety Disorders and their related conditions arise from problems in how people see the world and in how their minds and bodies communicate. As a result, few problems related to chronic feelings of anxiety or anxiety attacks can be resolved by diet and lifestyle changes. However, there are some foods that can worsen symptoms of anxiety disorders and related conditions, or even mimic their symptoms. While removing these substances from your diet might help to ease symptoms, those suffering from anxiety disorders and related conditions should work with their healthcare provider to be sure that they are managing their condition in the best way.
Caffeine is a stimulant. As such, too much of it can make you jittery and may even worsen feelings of anxiety.
Worse than that, too much caffeine can contribute to a quickening heartbeat – one of the classic early symptoms of an anxiety attack. Because caffeinated drinks – soda, energy drinks, coffee, and tea – are also highly acidic, they may also contribute to acid reflux. In this condition, stomach acid rises out of the stomach and rises up the esophagus – a tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. This can lead to chest pain. Mild acid reflux combined with a fast pulse can mimic an anxiety attack, but severe acid reflux is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.
If you can’t do without caffeine, you should try to be careful on the sources. Energy drinks usually have more caffeine than sodas, which often have more than coffee, which always has more than tea. Energy drinks also have other exotic ingredients that may be giving you problems, and energy drinks and soda are also loaded with sugar that can also make you jittery. Coffee and tea are your best bets as they only have as much sugar as you add. Within this group, coffee has more caffeine than black tea which has more than green tea. If you’re worried about acid, you can always add milk or cream to cut it.
If you decide to cut back on caffeine, be sure to do so gradually. Caffeine is an addictive substance and if you’re used to having a lot of it, cutting back or quitting quickly can have nasty side effects.
Alcohol is a depressant. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes you sad, it means that it can kind of slow things down for you. That can give it a huge appeal to people with anxiety disorders and related conditions, who often have problems with substance abuse.
Alcohol isn’t known to have a direct impact on the symptoms of people with anxiety disorders in the same way that caffeine does. Similarly, while it is possible to drink caffeine without going overboard, it is possible to drink alcohol without it posing a serious risk to one’s health. However, people with anxiety disorders should be aware that they are at risk to develop a dependency, especially if they also have a family history of alcoholism. Further, people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — a condition related to anxiety that sometimes follows a traumatic event – are usually advised to stay away from alcohol all together, as it can worsen symptoms and they too are at a higher risk of addiction.
As is the case with any addictive substance, stopping the use of alcohol can be hard, but healthcare providers can help to direct patients to resources to help them quit.
Nicotine, the main active ingredient in tobacco products, is somewhat unique in that it is a physical stimulant but a mental depressant. That means that it may ease your troubled mind a little, but it makes your body more jittery.
While the rush that comes from nicotine may promise some relief, the impact that it has on your lungs won’t help you out once an anxiety attack kicks in. There’s also the fact that if you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, nicotine use will likely lead to increased feelings of anxiety as you worry about your health more when using the infamously dangerous product. Add that to the fact that that buzz goes away once one becomes addicted.
As is the case with the other substances discussed in this article, nicotine is an addictive substance but your healthcare provider can help guide you to resources that make it easier to quit.
If you are worried that elements of your diet or drugs that you take – including prescription drugs – are worsening your anxiety disorder or related condition, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you to assess and change your diet, quit or cut back on addictive substances, and may be able to change your prescriptions to help you to manage your symptoms.
At Citizen Counselling and Coaching a number of our counsellors and coaches can provide support around anxiety. This can include identifying the obstacles to being less anxious, creating practical plans and advice through sharing techniques and models that have worked for others.
Our ‘My Anxiety Coach’ online programme and Coaching was designed for time poor busy people looking to increase their confidence and make a positive change in their lives.
Our Overcoming Anxiety page can explain more